When I was in college, I remember reading an article about how millennials have a stronger feeling of childhood nostalgia than previous generations. Technology was changing so quickly in our developmental years that our minds were forced to process those changes as if they had happened over a more extended period of time. Looking back on 2020 feels similar. This one year feels like ten, and as I read back over my top 10 list, it almost feels like my life is flashing before my eyes. I experienced all of these things within the last year? How did I just find another grey hair in my beard? Why is it so difficult to maintain a stream of conscious thought? But I digress.
So without further ado, and in no particular order…
Avatar: The Last Airbender
Let’s get this one out of the way, because who hasn’t watched Avatar this year? While I haven’t actually finished the series yet, it’s only because I’m enjoying it so much that I don’t want it to end. So why rush it? It’s rare to find a show with such a strong display of empathy – characters care about each other and aren’t afraid to have long discussions to get to the bottom of personal issues. While I did see some episodes of Avatar as a teenager, I wasn’t able to fully appreciate the patience it exercised. For a time when the manic personalities of shows like Spongebob Squarepants were dominating the airwaves, Avatar had the courage to slow down, take a deep breath, and think things through.
Carly Rae Jepsen, Dedicated: Side B
It feels like many of my favorite music artists tend to drop new music exactly when I need it most. Carly Rae Jepsen is no exception. Dedicated Side B is full of the elated pop medicine that I was desperately aching for as a very different summer began this year. Always in touch with her fanbase, Carly herself has noted that the track Solo almost never made it onto this album, but she felt the need to include it since so many people were going through a period of isolation at the time. Considering that this track contains the most beautiful set of notes I’ve ever heard a human being sing (it’s that high “hoo-ooo-ooo” in the background of the last chorus), I am eternally grateful.
The Last of Us: Part II
For better or worse, Neil Druckmann and co. seemed hellbent on putting the term “ludonarrative dissonance” to bed this year. Never in all my years of gaming have I felt so resistant to completing the task at hand, and yet, this is what made The Last of Us: Part II so incredible. We can’t always predict the future, but I think it’s safe to say that this game will be discussed for decades to come. It’s a modern classic that completely upends conventional storytelling in a way that only a video game could accomplish. The Last of Us: Part II may not be for the faint of heart, but for those who can handle it, the experience is completely unparalleled.
In 2020, many of us transitioned to a work-from-home environment. For years now, the music of Tycho has been a mainstay of helping me stay productive. For those unfamiliar, Tycho is the brainchild of electronic musician and graphic designer Scott Hansen. Easy on the ears, minimalist, but never boring, Simulcast was another wonderful addition to my playlist that has helped me through more long work days than I can count. If you’re curious for a good pairing to listen through the album, I recommend a fresh copy of Microsoft Excel 2019. It’s also great with a long evening walk through Collingswood, New Jersey on a chilly night. Hot chocolate is optional.
True Detective (Season 1)
How often is a single season of television this perfect? This well-thought-out? This well-executed? These are the types of questions I kept asking myself as I watched an episode of True Detective, and then another… and then another… and then, well, you get the point. The chemistry between Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson is out of this world, and the present-day interview to past-event narrative structure feels so effortless that I almost didn’t take notice it was happening. Add to this the incredible dialogue, directing, and performances from everyone involved, and it’s one of my favorite seasons of television I’ve ever had the pleasure to view.
Few films have the audacity to show the monotonous portions of a job as flatly as Spotlight does, but this is one of the reasons it works so well. As reporters from the Boston Globe investigate a cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese, Spotlight makes a point that big breakthroughs don’t come out of nowhere. The tedious and often thankless work has to be done, but the impact that work can have is immeasurable. As someone who loves working in teams, and was born and raised Catholic (but now identifies as agnostic), Spotlight hit home for me in a unique, unforgettable way.
A Star is Born
Most of my friends and family know that I’m an easy crier when it comes to film or TV. There are obvious instigators, such as Pixar films or any movie where a dog dies. And then, we have A Star is Born. I’m not sure I’ve ever been more wildly unprepared for the effect a movie would have on me than this one. A Star is Born hits me in so many places all at once. As a lover of film, Bradley Cooper nails a tone that feels “classic” right off the bat. As a musician and a hopeless romantic, it had me ugly crying on my couch for a solid five minutes after the credits started rolling. Speaking of ugly crying…
When I think of Schindler’s List, I’m still left somewhat speechless. There can’t possibly be anything I can say about this film that hasn’t already been said. As an experience, the film sits in an odd place for me that few pieces of media do: it’s one of my favorite films I’ve ever watched, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I never viewed it again. It’s so powerful but so gut-wrenching. It’s a strange feeling to realize that this may very well be Steven Spielberg’s greatest work, but I couldn’t possibly bear watching it as many times as Jurassic Park. Simply put, it hurts too much. A highly significant portion of that comes from John Williams’ tear-inducing score. Schindler’s List is a complete and total masterpiece.
During a year with so many negatives, Ted Lasso was a revelation. A product of Bill Lawrence, creator of Scrubs, Ted Lasso brought some much-needed optimism back into my life. From the moment Ted asks Nathan for his name and remembers it, I knew this show was going to be something special. Ted Lasso serves as a reminder that interacting with other human beings is a privilege, one we should never take for granted, and how there’s some good to be found in everyone. I can’t wait to see where this show goes next, considering it may be my favorite first season of a television show ever.
The Extra Time Spent with My Daughter
As far as silver linings go, this one tops any other, and I recognize there is immense privilege tied to this. Transitioning to a work-from-home environment this year allowed me much more time to spend with my daughter than I could have imagined having in a normal year. We’ve made a regular habit of taking lunch-time or early evening walks outside, and the conversations we’ve had are completely invaluable. I’ve learned more about the way she thinks and feels at 11 years old than I ever would have otherwise. Perhaps most importantly, it’s reminded me that as a parent, you’re never finished learning. Juggling remote work and remote learning for the two of us has been a challenge, but it’s been more than worth it for the memories I get to keep.
Honorable Mention: GateCrashers
I didn’t want to be too self-indulgent with this one (I’ll leave that up to Dan), but GateCrashers (formerly Supersons), has been my biggest constant throughout the year. As busy as we make ourselves, it can really pay off to have that one steady marker to return to whenever you need it most. There have been so many instances where I’ve felt stressed with the state of the world, only to go edit that week’s episode of GateCrashers and bring my barometer back to a neutral position. Plus, with all the new people we’re bringing on board, I gained a new film-watching buddy! So, in a way, I guess I’m thanking Dan for assigning me work… Weird.